Rosslyn Chapel

(Collegiate Chapel of St. Matthew; Roslin Chapel)

Detail of Rosslyn Chapel, Roslin
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Detail of Rosslyn Chapel, Roslin

Located just to the southeast of the village of Roslin in Midlothian, Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 by Sir William St. Clair, Prince of Orkney, close to his home at Rosslyn Castle. Although intended to form the Collegiate Chapel of St. Matthew, only the choir, chapter and part of the transepts were built because St. Clair died before the remainder could be completed. Despite the suggestion that the chapel is based on Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, the model seems to have been the East Choir of Glasgow Cathedral, which has an almost identical floor-plan, yet was built 200 years previously. However that which was built is remarkably ornate, with carved stonework and flying buttresses, a most florid expression of Gothic. The interior is replete with exquisitely detailed scenes from the Bible, in fact the chapel is known as a Bible in stone with carvings and sculptures including the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Cardinal Virtues, the Dance of Death and the Apprentice Pillar. Spanish and Portuguese architecture probably influenced its design but there is also a distinctly Scottish style.

Amongst the carvings are animals, leaves and exotic fruit which, from their age, are said to confirm that Henry St. Clair (Earl of Orkney) discovered America some 100 years before Columbus. The chapel was closely associated with the Knights Templar, a brotherhood of noblemen formed in the 12th C. It survived the Reformation, and occupation by Cromwell's troops remarkably undamaged. Damaged by an Edinburgh mob in 1688, it was repaired in 1739, with a major restoration by the Earl of Rosslyn (1862) for Episcopal use. Speculation continues that important religious scrolls and the Holy Grail (the cup used by Christ at the last supper) are hidden in the Apprentice Pillar within the chapel. Around 30,000 tourists visit the chapel each year. Royal visitors have included King George V and Queen Mary (1931), Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip (1961), Princess Margaret (1988) and Prince Charles (1998). In 2005, the chapel was a location for filming the Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, and this has greatly boosted tourist numbers. Other visitors included Dorothy Wordsworth (1807), who expressed concern that the chapel be cherished and properly maintained. The Rosslyn Chapel Trust is part way through a major restoration of the Chapel.

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